TOPEKA — A state-run program charged with treating sexual predators will likely “exceed its physical capacity” in four to five years, according to a legislative audit
report released today.
“We don’t have a lot of individuals coming out on the back end of the program, and 18, on average, are coming in on the front end,” each year, said Dan Bryan, an auditor with the Legislative Division of Post Audit. “So the program is going to grow.”
Bryan said it was reasonable to assume that the state’s Sexual Predator Treatment Program, which is housed on the campus of Larned State Hospital, would be full by either 2017 or 2018.
Since the treatment program’s inception in 1994, only three of its 251 residents have graduated and been released. Twenty-two have died while still in it.
Most of the treatment program’s residents are at least 40 years old and have been at the facility for at least five years. Roughly 80 percent have been diagnosed as pedophiles. Other diagnoses include schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and depression, according to the auditors.
Appearing before the joint Legislative Post Audit Committee, Bryan said that while the treatment program appeared to be safe and secure, it also was significantly understaffed.
In April, he said, 30 percent of the program’s 178 direct-care positions were vacant. At times, Bryan said, the program failed to meet minimal staffing levels.
Because so many positions are unfilled, the workers often are required to work overtime, he said. In 2012, treatment program employees logged more than 38,000 hours of overtime, almost a six-fold increase over the 6,700 hours logged in 2010.
Bryan attributed the vacancies to the fact that many people do not want to work with sexual predators or live in a “rural location,” or don’t want to put in “a significant amount of overtime.”
Wages were another factor, he said. The hospital’s entry-level workers are paid $12.04 an hour. Their counterparts at the nearby prison and juvenile detention facility start at $13.65 an hour.
Twenty-two percent of the treatment program’s employees who responded to a Legislative Post Audit survey said they did not feel safe “while working.”
Larned State Hospital officials did not dispute most of the findings.
“Overtime is a significant issue at our facility,” hospital Supt. Tom Kinlen told KHI News Service. “We make no bones about that. That’s why we’re working so hard to reduce it.”
Kinlen told committee members that hospital officials recently had launched several initiatives aimed at boosting employee morale.
He also said he had enacted policies meant to prevent cell phones from being smuggled into the facility. Cell phones can be used by the program’s residents to download and share pornography.
“We take all the post audit’s recommendations seriously,” said Lea Stueve, policy director at the Kansas Department for Aging and Disability Services, which administers both the state hospital and the treatment program.
Stueve said the hospital’s overtime troubles had declined in recent months.
“It’s still a serious issue, but the trend is going down,” she said.
The audit did not address concerns raised by mental health advocates that the treatment program is being run like a prison and that the services are both punitive and ineffective.
Bryan said those concerns would be addressed in a KDADS task force report due for release in two to three weeks.
“The message I took away from today was, ‘Hey, folks, we got a problem. We got 18 people coming in every year, and nobody’s leaving,’” said Rick Cagan, executive director of the National Alliance on Mental Illness-Kansas. “We really didn’t get into the bigger issues that come with either coming up with a way that allows people to move through the program or having to spend millions on additional dollars on expanding the place.”
Eldon Dillingham, whose son has been in the treatment program for about five years, attended the hearing.
“I’m disappointed,” he said. “I really thought some attention was going to paid to why nobody leaves the program, why nobody gets out. It’s not a treatment program, it’s a prison. It’s run like a warehouse.”
Dillingham said he and other residents’ family members were organizing.
“We’re coming together,” he said. “We’ll work with the hospital and we’ll work with our elected officials. But if things don’t change, we’re prepared to take other actions as well.”
Those “actions,” he said, may include taking legal action against the treatment program.
Rep. Marvin Kleeb, a Republican from Overland Park, and a member of the post-audit committee, said legislators should consider moving the treatment program to an urban area and a larger pool of potential employees.
“If they’re having so much trouble getting people to work there, why is that we keep insisting on the program being located in a town of 4,000 people?” Kleeb said. “It’s almost like this is some kind of economic development thing” for Larned.
“I also found myself wondering why no one ever leaves the program even though they’ve paid their debt to society. That seems like a conflict,” he said. “I’m all for protecting society, but I don’t know that that means no one there can ever be rehabilitated.”
Stueve and Kinlen said KDADS was not considering moving the treatment program.
By Dave Ranney
KHI News Service